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First responders are at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their profession’s nature. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect us and provide emergency care, even in dangerous and life-threatening situations. However, treatment is available for first responders who suffer from PTSD and other mental health conditions.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a severe mental health condition that affects a person’s wellbeing and relationships with loved ones. Many people who have PTSD will go through temporary feelings of discomfort that can get better with time and self-care. Others may experience symptoms of PTSD for months or even years.
PTSD can interfere with a person’s daily activities and cause sleep disturbances, nightmares, and flashbacks. If left untreated, PTSD can lead to substance use, addiction, or suicide. Mental health conditions and addiction can affect anyone, including first responders who are committed to helping others. The term “first responder” refers to the police, firefighters, search and rescue personnel, military, mental health workers, emergency dispatchers, and emergency and paramedical teams.
Ending the Shame Surrounding Mental Health
Shame and stigma often surround mental health within professions that symbolize bravery and toughness. A stigma is a false perception and negative attitude against someone based on a characteristic, such as mental illness, health condition, or disability. Unfortunately, many people in these professions do not seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health.
First responders often mask their mental anguish in humor. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that advocates for and advances the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout our society, first responders are at higher risk of dying by suicide than in the line of duty. “In 2017, there were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty.”
Everyday Stressors For First Responders
Our first responders in the police, fire, EMS, and military professions need to be ready for anything, at any time. They live with a fear that something will happen that they cannot control. The weight of the responsibility they carry can be paralyzing and debilitating. Fear sometimes needs to be buried deep within for first responders to perform their job.
The skills they have to do their job effectively need to be nurtured and continuously challenged. When a skill is learned, it needs to be re-learned at every available moment to ensure competence. There is always something new to perfect. “The training is the foundation that everything else depends upon. Having the skills to perform embedded in you through repetition helps when the real deal comes your way.” (Michael Morse, Fire Rescue 1, 2015).
First responders mentally prepare themselves to face death, disfigurement, and disease while at work and off duty. It becomes the “norm” to them, and it eats away at their humanity and compassion. They have erratic sleep schedules and miss important events and holidays with loved ones. The feeling of impending doom and despair will always be with them, consciously or subconsciously.
Trauma-Related Substance Use
People who experience PTSD or other mental health conditions may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate, which can result in destructive behavior, disruption with job performance, trouble with loved ones, severe health complications, and death. Individuals who experience trauma may use drugs or alcohol to:
- Fall asleep due to disruptive sleep patterns caused by PTSD
- Avoid traumatic memories or flashbacks
- Forget about problems
- Deal with mood disturbances caused by PTSD
- Numb emotions
Substance use disorder and PTSD often co-occur and can be treated as a dual diagnosis. Those who have PTSD might have flashbacks and repeatedly relive the event. They may avoid certain places or people and can be easily startled and have angry outbursts.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances in individuals who develop PTSD due to its central nervous system depressant effects, availability, and acceptance across every social level. Developing PTSD is a risk factor for developing a substance use disorder or addiction. Having a pre-existing substance use problem is a risk factor for the development of PTSD.
Mental health is critical to study in the context of disasters because often in tragic events, loved ones are lost suddenly, horrifically, and unexpectedly.
Treatment For PTSD
It can be challenging to ask for help, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Anyone can develop symptoms of PTSD due to traumatic events. Do not let the stigma surrounding PTSD interfere with getting the help you desperately need. If you or a loved one has PTSD or other mental health conditions, make the life-saving decision to get help now.
Many first responders may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As they put their lives on the line and witness horrifying scenes, they can become traumatized. Suffering from the symptoms of trauma can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use. As first responders wish to numb their emotions, forget their memories, or cure sleep disturbances caused by PTSD, they use more and more substances, creating the possibility of developing substance use disorder. First responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty to the multitude of adverse effects of PTSD. Although PTSD is a debilitating mental health disorder, it can be managed with the right medication and psychotherapy. Sometimes, the stigma of psychiatric disorders prevents people from getting the help they desperately need. At Achieve Concierge, we offer in-person appointments and even at-home services if you are more comfortable at home. Take the first step to self-care. Get help today and call (619) 393-5871.